Heart & Hustle
HSE Baseball Coach Reflects On Historic Season Winning School’s First-Ever State Championship
Jeremy Sassanella’s first year as head coach of Hamilton Southeastern High School’s (HSE) varsity baseball team was, quite literally, one for the record books.
In June, Sassanella’s squad brought home the school’s first Class 4A baseball state championship, overcoming Columbus East 3-2 at Indy’s Victory Field.
Hamilton Southeastern won their last 11 games of the season in the process of capturing the state title, and strong pitching performances played a key role in the final game. Royals pitchers allowed Columbus East just five total hits, with starter Michael Dillon going four innings allowing two runs on four hits, and Tyler Schweitzer finishing the last three innings with five strikeouts and zero runs.
Due to inclement weather, the championship game didn’t start until nearly 10:00 p.m., and the late start, combined with what Sassanella describes as an “awful” pregame warmup, might have rattled many a squad. However, Sassanella says the Royals kept their composure as the first pitch was thrown.
“I pulled them into the dugout after that bad pregame and asked them if we’ve exorcized those demons, and they answered ‘yes’ almost in unison,” he says. “I knew we were focused after that, and when they stepped on the field in the first inning, it was on.”
Columbus East tied the game 2-2 in the fifth inning after HSE senior Cole DeWael scored in the first off of a single by Jack Dewolf and Brayton Harrison beat out a close throw to home plate in the third. In the bottom of the seventh, Grayson Droste hit a ground ball into a fielder’s choice, which led to a throwing error by East’s shortstop, resulting in the winning run by Anthony Eggers.
Dewolf went two of three with two RBIs, and Cam Bolling, Matthew Buckingham, Harrison, DeWael and Eggers all had hits in the game.
“There were so many great things that individual guys did in that game, but I think the one that stands out more than anything else is Tyler Schweitzer coming in in a really tough spot in the fifth inning and just being an absolute bulldog,” Sassanella says.
HSE compiled an overall record of 23-8 on the season and finished 10-4 in the Hoosier Crossroads Conference.
While he didn’t necessarily envision an eventual state title toward the beginning of the season, Sassanella recalls a feeling of what he calls “cautious optimism” setting in early on as he became familiar with the players on his first roster as HSE’s head coach.
“As I got to meet the kids at the start of the year I started getting the feeling like we had some real potential,” he recalls. “We had a couple of kids who were going to be committing to the Division I level, which is always a good thing. As we dug in and I got to know the kids and went to work, we knew there was a good foundation.”
Sassanella was drafted out of DeKalb High School in 1997 by the Detroit Tigers and played minor league ball for three seasons before embarking on a coaching career. Prior to the 2018-2019 academic year, he served as the head coach for three years at Brebeuf Jesuit and previously served in various coaching capacities at Fort Wayne Northrop and Fort Wayne South Side high schools, as well as several youth programs in central and northern Indiana.
The state championship comes two years after HSE officially named its field after Ken Seitz, who won 514 games over a 25-year career as varsity coach. After retiring upon completion of the 2001 season, at which time he was inducted into the Indiana Baseball Hall of Fame, Seitz came back to be a part of the team in 2010 and still serves on the coaching staff with his son Kory.
“It feels really special to have pulled off the win, and I’m so happy for the Seitzes and the HSE community,” Sassanella says. “I said to the kids the first day I met them, ‘Guys, you determine who we become.’ They really took that upon themselves and decided to become great.”